Ignorance Revealed

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about reading so many novels is the depth and breadth of my own ignorance that is revealed. Each book leads to whole new areas of knowledge that I want to explore, and there is something rather somber about realizing there's not time enough for them all. Case in point, having just finished both of Alan Paton's novels, Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope, I have an intense curiosity about the origins of South Africa. Keep in mind that both of his novels date from the early years after World War II, and both I believe (though I'm only sure about Cry) were written before the 1948 Nationalist victory and the apartheid system that resulted. So in one sense, there is curiosity about what happens after the books, what it was that ended Paton's career as a novelist so he could focus on political issues, what became of the underlying tensions in his novels that serve really as ominous dramatic irony to the reader, who knows even more than the novelist himself the darkness to come.

But the greater curiosity is actually about what happened to make South Africa the place depicted in his books. This would require stretching all the way back to the Dutch and British colonizations, the Boer War, and the subsequent efforts at conciliation, largely it seems at the expense of the natives. Anyhow, this is a recurring phenomenon for me, as it is I'm sure for many who spend much of their time reading. The pursuit of knowledge reveals as much ignorance as it cures. Strangely, it is both unsettling and deeply satisfying to know that this is an endless quest.